Acai Bowls - Healthy Meal or Calorie Bomb?

By Amy Johnson, RD, CDE: Robeks and many other smoothie chains are not as "healthy" as they claim. Once you understand that sweet almond milk, honey, yogurt and sherbet are all actually added sugar, you may just want to make your own!!

As a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, I think it’s important to actively practice what I preach. After all, changing food habits is one of the hardest changes to make!

My friend and former co-worker (also a dietitian) Laura and I regularly get together to “catch up.” In true American (and dietitian) fashion, our meet-ups often revolve around food. Laura is currently on an “Acai Bowl” kick and requested that we meet at Robeks.

I encourage my patients to look at nutritional information on restaurant sites before they order from the menu, and I follow that rule myself. Whipping out my cell phone, I googled the nutritional information for Robeks.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement! I figured that I could find a few options that were reasonable to select from …boy was I wrong!

The currently popular non-sustainable food plans that eliminate all sweets and whole food groups just don’t fly with me. I’m by no means a “perfect eater”, but I do try to follow at least an “80/20” eating style, where I make healthy choices 80% of the time and allow myself some treats along the way. When I do decide to splurge, I do try to go into with “eyes wide open” (most of the time anyway)!

I try to follow an “80/20” eating style: make healthy choices 80% of the time and allow myself some treats along the way.

Now to the nitty gritty … …The healthy sounding Acai StrawnanaBerry bowl contains Acai Juice (pronounced “ah-sigh-ee”) which made from berries found on palm trees in the rainforests in South America. The berries are touted to be healthy because they are high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and calcium.

I’m unclear if the berries have sugar added to them at Robeks. This bowl does include sweetened vanilla almond milk, granola (which is sugar laden), and raw honey (which while natural, is still considered an added sugar).

The recommended suggested amount of added sugar per day is supposed to be 25g for women and 30-35g for men. While fresh fruit is a natural sugar, I’m hard pressed to think that this bowl at 440 calories, 69g of sugar is mostly natural! Even if it was, there is such a thing as excessive!

100% fruit juice is not an added sugar , but most fruit juice is not 100%. I still prefer to get my fruit from the whole food as it has lots of fiber and is lower in overall calories. Why is fruit juice added to all that fruit anyway? Water or unsweetened almond milk will blend things perfectly.

Looking into other options, I eyed the Nutty Acai bowl. In addition to the sugar and Acai juice that the other bowl contained, this item includes loads of peanut butter. Peanut butter may be healthy on its own, with high amounts of protein and fiber, but who really needs it added to an already high calorie item? The Nutty Acai Bowl tips the scales at 700 calories and 74g of sugar.

Next up was the Acai Green Bliss bowl. With its Acai juice, spinach, mint, cucumber and green tea, it sounds amazingly healthy, but is it? Surprisingly, no... With frozen sweetened yogurt, sherbet, and raw honey, it’s a safe bet that most of the 70g of sugar is added sugar.

So what healthy options are there at Robeks? If you absolutely must have an Acai bowl, I’d suggest the Acai Especial. While this bowl is certainly not special in the calorie department (16oz will set you back 620 calories), it contains fresh fruit and Acai juice, and only one obvious source of added sugar… the granola. If you’re really trying to keep to natural sugar, I suggest ask for it without the granola!

Just remember, the calories you consume must be offset with exercise to avoid weight game. How long does it take to burn 600 calories? While it does depend on your weight and sex, you’re looking at at least an hour of jogging!!

So, what did I choose? Not wanting to spend my next hour hitting the pavement, I went with the Root to Stem... juiced kale, celery, spinach, carrot, beet, apple and ginger. I'm not impressed with juicing because it leaves behind the fiber in the food, but at least this one doesn't include added sugar.

A medium drink provides 240 calories. Overall, things were looking good – until I tasted it. It was so bad that I made my friend taste it, too! Having spent $8.99 on this, I asked them to add a banana and then I just downed it and grimaced.

Long story short - Robeks and many other smoothie chains are not as "healthy" as they claim. Once you understand that sweet almond milk, honey, yogurt and sherbet are all actually added sugar, you may just want to make your own!!

Homemade Smoothie

A simple homemade smoothie can be as easy as a cup of unsweetened almond milk, a handful of fresh spinach or other leafy greens of choice, a handful of frozen berries and/or a banana!

If you must add a protein powder, make sure it is a high quality one and not one made with a ton of vitamins/minerals and ingredients your grandma never heard of.

Keep it simple - unsweetened whey or pea protein are good choices.

I know for a fact that my homemade smoothie is healthy and tastes good... plus, it also doesn't cost $8.99!

Amy Johnson, RD, CDE, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with over 20 years of experience helping patients make healthy food choices. To schedule an evaluation with Amy Johnson in our Sterling office, request an appointment online or call 703-433-2500.


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